The Christmas season is a little strange this year. The parents were going to be in Israel, so we made all our plans without them. Now they will be here after all, so our plans are split in two. It will be confusing and odd, but still Christmas. I didn't do my usual Advent posts this year, and I confess that I'm not quite holding onto the season as well as I usually do. It seems full of retail this year, and I regret that. I'll try to do better this week - despite it being the busiest, money-filled week of the year.
All my Christmas love to everyone.
'The republic of letters resolves itself into an aggregate of uncommunicating and unwindowed monads; each has unawares crowned and mitred himself Pope and King of Pointland.'
- Lewis, Preface to Paradise Lost
Yes, Edinburgh fellows, he just used the word 'monad'. And Walter Benjamin thought he was being all clever...
One other point of decorum you might consider. It's not exactly good manners to invite someone to have a seat on their own property. It's my house. I'll sit down if I damn well please, thank you very much. You are no rabbi for me to huddle at your feet on the patio steps. Ahem. Anyway.
I do appreciate people with conviction, even if that conviction is misguided. It's good to know there are people in the world who still believe in something, even if it is an awkwardly misinterpreted deformation of my own faith. (Okay, I know... I don't think there's anything good about bastardizing Scripture. I'm just trying to be diplomatic here.) But have a little more gumption, please. I know my walls were up, and it was obvious. I didn't know you, and you were condescending to me with a Bible in your hands. Bad idea. But just because I tell you, 'Actually, I've read that book all the way through,' just because I mention interpretation and ancient Greek, just because I ask about authorship and translation doesn't mean you should run! Please! I've never heard of a reliable Jehovah's Witness biblical scholar. Couldn't you just give me one? A name? A book? Anything? I'm curious, really. I'm not interested in your tract - mostly because I don't want you calling me about it later. But I'd be very interested to read someone intelligent from your church respond, let's say, to Joseph Bottum of First Things. Or N. T. Wright (much as he annoys me personally). If I just saw that you were in conversation with actual scholars and pastors and intelligent men of faith, I might consider you credible.
One last thing. I know we're standing outside and all, but we're in the shade. Take off your sunglasses when you speak to a stranger about the kingdom of God. Let them see your face. Have that courtesy, please.
I want to be writing in my journal, but I burned my finger on the gravy and can't hold a pen properly. Typing is easier.
Stuffed, of course, on turkey and two kinds of yams and mashed potatoes and green beans and rolls. Dad and I walked for about fifteen minutes beforehand, collecting red leaves on First Street. We'll be frosting cookies in a bit, as soon as we can pop the dishes into the second dishwasher load. I took some blurry pictures of the table before dinner. Tried to take a picture of myself in the cornucopihat. Blurry.
It is the day to be thankful, and I am.
I am thankful for my parents, that they're interesting every day. That they don't freak out when I pour gravy on myself for no reason. For being steady.
I am thankful for my sister in Africa, for finding joy and living as fully as she can wherever she is. I am thankful for my sister in California, for being more faithful than nature. For both of them – for loving me like I'm more fascinating than I am.
I am thankful for my brother, for being brave and patient with the world. For believing foolishly.
I am thankful for the view out my window, for everyone who lives boldly in the open across the street.
For this past Monday, for wisdom and the peace of family who aren't family. For conversation and wine and infinity scarves in the fading light.
For writing till it hurts and the coffee that attends it, for criticism that constructs, for absurd word games and Lebanese food. You're in that, Jenny Bellington.
I'm thankful for Portfolio, but if I'm honest with myself, I've owed more to Starbucks with their consistency and ubiquity than to any other company.
For love that I ask for and love that I don't. For waking after strange dreams. For pages and pens. For C. S. Lewis (I'm reading you tonight) and Walter Wangerin Jr. and Frederic Buechner, and a host of smarter men than me. Not that I'm a man. But you get what I'm saying.
For learning my weaknesses and discovering that I can put my foot down and leave it there with happiness.
For Icarus – though you haven't spoken to me in years. For Eros – though you have grown up without me. I owe more to the two of you than to any other men.
For poetic code names no one understands but me.
For Kathryn and Chaeli, for keeping me in your hearts and hunting me down regardless of where I go in my head.
For grace. For spades of oceans of grace. For the seamonster that devours all my errors. For the Violet Burning (That's not a poetic code name. It's a band.) and for hymns. For Beth Balmer and the liturgy. For Grace Brethren, St Francis, New Life, St Andrew's, Church of the Resurrection, and Church of the Great Shepherd. Those who criticize the Church have not known you.
For my grandmother, who is gone. I wish you knew me now – the awkward phase is mostly over. You would have taught me to knit a cable knit sweater fit for an Atlantic fisherman.
I have been inordinately blessed.
To the one who gives more than I can return, I thank you.
Better than the sandwich was seeing Jenny again. I last saw her leaving from her wedding in a fancy car, white dress billowing, cries of 'hoorah' and all that jazz. She inspired me to make quiche - not that I've followed up on that inspiration yet, but I will - and we had a miniature wine tasting. The wine wasn't miniature. It was just... well, I guess there was nothing miniature about it. Anyway.
On my way out of town, I talked briefly with Spencer about logos and design and design philosophy and blogs and business and classic rock. I'm borrowing a small library from Tara, and I have some of my Christmas shopping done as well! It was a very productive day. And healthy, and fresh, and beautiful.
Every time I visit, I wonder why I don't do it more often. I know there are reasons, but when I am there the reasons seem so inconsequential. I said this last spring, and I say it again. I will try to do better. I will try to go more. I will try.
like a rug at noon--
like a rug in the yard
against the sun hanging.
i would beat her with
racket or with rod
and, like the dust from a mummy,
all that is not-her
will fly like so much sand
into the forgiving air,
the breeze like balm
breathing the not-me away.
this is my mercy--
(what i really want to do is touch
her forehead with the gentle tip of
a finger, gently push, and from her
skin see blow these particles, as
though this small gesture were an
of my suede boots, speckling
them with unwanted rain,
damaging their seams, their soft,
with storm, I smile.
I life my face to falling heaven
Who will ride through storm
thinking to suffer not
will wear a flinching fear
for person and possession.
Who will wade through water
holding high the precious things,
lifting above the stream the dear things,
knows not how to love them.
He loves who holds amidst the suffer,
who hand-in-hand allows
both comfort and decay to come.
He loves who worries not,
nor fears, but smiling at the gorgeous Good,
lets fall upon the smallest of concerns
the great unconcern of Nature.
Even so far loving life,
laughs slightly, though with pity
and with pain,
when the great Race of Man
hits heavy, beats and falls upon the body
or the heart.
Yes, even so will I,
though small and weak of frame,
with much or slight to lose,
wear wide upon my heart
the happiness of rain.
(written in Edinburgh, after being caught in a storm - February 10, 2006)
Yesterday was my brother's birthday. I think it's time to stop calling him a boy and start calling him a man. He's tall. He's old. He's got a fancy car and a realish sort of job. Happy birthday, Nathaniel. I miss you.
It's been over a week of my silence. I'm sorry about that. Been very busy with a lot of stuff I'm just not gonna go into here. Life is good, I'm alive, things are well. And aren't I descriptive? I'm typing this on my sister's laptop, because I just spent half my weekend here. Headed home in an hour or two after a shower and deciding which sweater to steal from her for the week. Next Sunday, we'll be headed to Santa Ana for Patchwork, where Tara will be peddling her beautiful wares! I foresee a whole lot of Christmas shopping going down. Hopefully by then I'll have my paychecks all sorted out (forgot to cancel direct deposit when I closed my F&M account last week. oops!). Meanwhile, I'll be working absent-mindedly, writing furiously and guiltily, and trying to be faithful to everyone else in the meantime.
Being faithful to people can be complicated. How do you choose between two opposing forces? How to you respect lines honestly and healthily drawn? How do you measure the worth of an individual in increments of time? Or productivity? Or the depth and/or length of a conversation? I'm not trying to be complicated here. Once upon a time, I thought I was a good friend. I thought I was faithful and thorough. I don't know if I've changed or just figured myself out better. I'm also not looking for affirmation. Just musing on growing up - what it means to know yourself and others better, and how increased understanding lends new responsibility.
(oh, and that is a whole blog post on its own - how understanding a person, whether you ask for that understanding or not, makes you responsible for them. why is this? i don't know. but it makes me think that those who understand human beings best should all be monks - to devote themselves to prayer for the world. how else will you have the time to fulfill your responsibility to your own human understanding?)
by G. K. Chesterton
Other loves may sink and settle, other loves may loose and slack,
But I wander like a minstrel with a harp upon his back,
Though the harp be on my bosom, though I finger and I fret,
Still, my hope is all before me: for I cannot play it yet.
In your strings is hid a music that no hand hath e'er let fall,
In your soul is sealed a pleasure that you have not known at all;
Pleasure subtle as your spirit, strange and slender as your frame,
Fiercer than the pain that folds you, softer than your sorrow's name.
Not as mine, my soul's annointed, not as mine the rude and light
Easy mirth of many faces, swaggering pride of song and fight;
Something stranger, something sweeter, something waiting you afar,
Secret as your stricken senses, magic as your sorrows are.
But on this, God's harp supernal, stretched but to be stricken once,
Hoary time is a beginner, Life a bungler, Death a dunce.
But I will not fear to match them-no, by God, I will not fear,
I will learn you, I will play you and the stars stand still to hear.
Confusing or not, I still love Williams' words. Here are a few bits and pieces for your own love:
'...more and more securely the working of that Fate which was Love possessed her. For it was fatal in its nature; rich and austere at once, giving death and life in the same moment, restoring beyond belief all the things it took away - except the individual will.'
p. 144 (This one I have scribbled inside my Bible. It sort of sums up Sybil's place in the book, that strange power that only she possesses fully.)
'She never said anything about it, nor, as a consequence, did anybody else; it being a certain rule in this world that what is not made of vivid personal importance will cease to be of social interest. The shoemaker's conversation therefore rightly returns to leather.'
'What on earth were they doing, singing about the mystery of love in church?'
'Her father was different too. He seemed no more the absurd, slightly despicable, affected and pompous and irritating elderly man whom she had known; all that was unimportant. He walked alone, a genie from some other world, demanding of her something which she had not troubled to give. If she would not find out what it was, it was no good blaming him for the failure of their proper relation. She, she only was to blame; the sin lay in her heart whenever that heart set itself against any other.'
Something happens when the Eucharist falls down our throats.
We don't know what because we are Protestants,
and the spirit of the age makes us slow.
But the man who gives mercy avoids our ignorance.
He doesn't wait for awareness to send Spirit.
If we do not know in the halls of our churches,
if we fail to approach the cup with care and with fear,
still - he will deign to show us in the shades of a forest
or between the bright folds of the ocean's surface.
Because his delight is in our briefest moments,
He will give up his own man for us.
He will give a god in exchange for our lives.
They were the words-of-wisdom types. I really love those people, though I know I'll never be one of them. I'm alright with that. Not that I don't understand them, and not that I've never felt led to share a word, picture, idea that God has given me with someone... but there's a kind of community in which it becomes the predominant practice of their gatherings of faith to interact in that way. And that just isn't gonna be me. At least, I highly doubt it. It's like driving past a familiar street knowing you'll never make it down that way, but you recognize that it's got a really nice view. Something like that.
A while afterward, we went to Crystal Cove. There's something about that place that's just good for the soul. Also good for photography. Carissa's camera's loaded with beachy shots of all of us. I think we may have even taken a few of her just before the battery died. Home to no-bakes that wouldn't set and Catch Phrase at the living room window. There are lots of reasons to like that game, but the main one has to be watching it played by siblings and close friends. When they leap up and shout, 'oh! Oh! that time!! with the ferris wheel!' and the other one goes, 'penguin feet!!!' like it's the most certain and clear-headed association in the world. The eeriest games are with Stuart and Spencer. I'm pretty sure I remember a time when Stuart just glanced up from the word, without having said a thing, and Spencer blurted it out like a genie. The very word. Straight from one man's brain to the other. Creepy. Fabulous.
Now it's bedtime. This has been more than fourteen hours of straight socialization, and I admit to being a bit exhausted. It's more than I've had in a very, very long time. But it was good.
- Kierkegaard, from Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments
Yesterday I went with my sister to view an exhibit of sound sculptures in the art district of downtown Long Beach. If you read the phrase 'sound sculpture' and cock your head in confusion and misunderstanding, you've found the right response. Neither art nor reason had much to do with the display of noise along Broadway and Linden. I was reminded of the chapter in The Phantom Tollbooth entitled Dischord and Dynne. Dischord thinks he has a rather good business going selling bottles of cacophony. From what I could tell of the 'artists' downtown yesterday, he would have done good business indeed had he set up shop on the corner there, opening his doors and calling it art.
In their defense, I'm sure many of them had reasons for their displays. But there's a difference between a display of intentional racket and Art. Now you will ask me what art is. You will expect me to offer a thorough and concise definition. Well, I can't do it. I can only offer that small assertion, as the judge said of pornography, that I may not be able to define it to the satisfaction of a court of law, but I certainly know it when I see it.
In this case, I suppose, when I hear it. Either way, I know what it is not. I felt rather ashamed of myself, strolling those streets. I cannot describe to you how pretentious I felt, casting judgment on the pretension of those artists. I couldn't help thinking of the half hour I spent with Chaeli in the lower rooms of the Vatican museum, staring at the crucifix by Cantatore, realizing that it is possible for contemporary art to be good. More than good - brilliant. Restorative. It is possible for art to change you, to make you more whole, to sanctify. If the sound sculptures of yesterday were actually works of art - which I do not take as a given - they were certainly not the sort of art that makes you more human.
The best part of the evening was when we discovered a small garden hidden away between the tall buildings and the speakers pulsing static at passersby. It was, incidentally, rather quiet in the garden - apart from the voices of people. There was basil, and tomatoes on the ground, and a quickly rotting pumpkin. Candles were scattered throughout, and there was even a small picnic table for the knowing romantics. It was hidden, green, and full of life. We were better people in there, I think. There is, perhaps, hope for the world - if not for art.
- Elizabeth Gaskell
North and South
- St Francis de Sales
from An Introduction to the Devout Life (1608)
'Even the greatest writers struggle to describe human goodness, and very few (William Blake, Charles Williams) can speak of heavenly things without giving their audience the church giggles. There’s just something about an aura of divine love that stunts the human vocabulary.'
And yet, the books that DO succeed in describing human goodness, the ones that express the 'aura of divine love,' without giving divinity a bad name, those are the books I most love to read. Those are the ones that make it into my top ten. And if I'm honest, those are the kind of books I want to write myself. Will they be popular? Successful? Probably not. But Carter finished her review with a note of encouragement, speaking again more of Anne Rice than of her novels:
'Her biographies of Jesus were the heavenly work that called her away from the making and selling of bestsellers. With Lucky’s story, she tells us that serving God is more satisfying than serving the Right Man—or the right critics, or even the right readers. Sneer if you want, but it’s hard not to envy her.'
Thank you for the reminder.
(thought I'd post this because they are, in fact, both blooming and speaking in the backyard. though it seems they are being drowned out by the raucous from the jasmine.)
"As long as we are able to
be extravagant we will be
hugely and damply
extravagant. Then we will drop
foil by foil to the ground. This
is our unalterable task, and we do it
And they went on. "Listen,
the heart-shackles are not, as you think,
death, illness, pain,
unrequited hope, not loneliness, but
lassitude, rue, vainglory, fear, anxiety,
Their fragrance all the while rising
from their blind bodies, making me
spin with joy.
'Something beautiful fills the mind yet invites the search for something beyond itself, something larger or something of the same scale with which it needs to be brought into relation. Beauty, according to its critics, causes us to gape and suspend all thought. This complaint is manifestly true: Odysseus does stand marveling before the palm; Odysseus is similarly incapacitated in front of Nausicaa; and Odysseus will soon, in Book 7, stand "gazing," in much the same way, at the season-immune orchards of King Alcinous, the pears, apples, and figs that bud on one branch while ripening on another, so that never during the cycling year do they cease to be in flower and fruit. But simultaneously what is beautiful prompts the mind to move chronologically back in the search for precedents and parallels, to move forward into new acts of creation, to move conceptually over, to bring things into relation, and does all this with a kind of urgency as though one's life depended on it.'
Maybe a little too simple. At times, maybe a little too subtle. The best chapters were the ones from Sam's point of view, when he's a wolf. That doesn't take up a whole lot of the story, unfortunately. I mean, it would seriously hamper the progression of the plot if he was a wolf for much more of the time, but the writing was still at its best then. Perhaps because it seemed that the poetic, lyrical passages were justified. I like Rilke just fine, and I know plenty of people who compose song lyrics in their heads, but Sam as a human was just maybe a little too emo for me. It could just be that I'm almost ten years older than him, and that's why I have trouble taking his brooding, romantic eloquence seriously.
Having said that, it was a lovely book. I'd recommend it to anyone who didn't have anything better to do. But really, in the end, the best part of this book is its cover.
Which I can do in a few weeks because I have vacation time!!! Yes, Saturday morning the managers notified me that I need to do something unwork-related for about a week before the end of the month. Discounting Labor Day week, because the other kids person has asked for that off. SO - I MUST vacate. By order of Steve-Scott-Charles. There are about a million things I would like to do (fly to Europe. fly to Dallas. drive to Colorado. fly to Connecticut. to Chicago.), but one in particular that I've been planning to do. You know who you are. This roadtrip will happen.
Let me tell you how not to walk into Walmart. First, do not listen to Radiohead's 'Sit Down. Stand Up.' while you drive there and park. 'Walk into the jaws of hell...' is not a line you want playing in your head as you trudge slow motion through the hottest day of summer over the asphalt and into those doors. Also, bring a map if you can. Because circling around the perimeter of the store, dodging impulse displays and mothers with rolly carts, staring down the vast aisles of disposable kitchenware in search of puff balls and glitter paint... it can be disorienting if not downright damaging. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, wear earplugs. Not for the screaming children, though drowning them out is certainly an added benefit. The earplugs are for the Voices. I am not making this up. There's a floaty woman's voice that plays just above your head as you walk around telling you what the latest discounts are. I thought I was in Feed. It felt like the end of the world. I would not have been surprised if an automaton had approached me with food samples in little cups.
Suffice it to say, I will not be going back for a very long while. And when I do, I will know to take precautions.
at the bookstore: The Greater Trumps, by Charles Williams, because I'm pretty sure I loaned my copy and never got it back. Kind of important to own a book if you're going to be making people read it in a book club. I have the same problem with The Man Who Was Thursday, only I couldn't find it on the shelf. Yes, Chesterton starts with a 'C'. I swear it was there three days ago...
free! from the publisher!: There's more than one reason I love Aqua di Gio. AJ handed me Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver yesterday. If the writing was bad, this book might give Stephenie Meyer a run for her money. But it's not, so I'll just have to hand-sell this thing as best I can. Werewolves? Star-crossed love? Sound familiar? And the cover's pretty, too.
(thank you Amanda. I told you all it would come eventually.)
For a long time
I was not even
in this world, yet
opened in perfect sweetness
in gracious repose,
in its own exotic fragrance,
in its huge willingness to give
something, from its small self,
to the entirety of the world.
I think of them, thousands upon thousands,
in many lands,
whenever summer came to them,
out of the patience of patience,
to leaf and bud and look up
into the blue sky
or, with thanks,
into the rain
that would feed
their thirsty roots
latched into the earth -
sandy or hard, Vermont or Arabia,
what did it matter,
the answer was simply to rise
in joyfulness, all their days.
Have I found any better teaching?
Not ever, not yet.
Last week I saw my first Botticelli
and almost fainted,
and if I could I would paint like that
but am shelved somewhere below, with a few songs
about roses: teachers, also, of the ways
toward thanks, and praise.
Meanwhile, I've had something 'social' going on every day for the last week, and more to come for the next several days. I don't think I have a real day off until next Thursday, though I suddenly don't regret this. I look back on all the days I haven't gone into work in the last two years, and I see a trail of waste. It's not that curling up on the couch with a good book is a waste. It's everything else I do and do not do that has curdled inside me.
And as many people can attest to, I have become a very selfish person in the last two years. Perhaps I was selfish before, but I was usually aware of it and sorry for it, and I put myself out of my own way to be present and available for others. Now, I avoid people whenever possible and consider it a drudge when I'm made to associate with them for any length of time. There are the few exceptions to this rule (I will not name them, though I hope they know who they are), but my willingness to set aside my own time for theirs is still more selfishness. Because I enjoy them. It requires no effort to be with them.
All this to say, I am willing to put forth the effort. I am tired of being my own only company, I am regretful of all that has come from my solitude, and I recall to mind Loving people with a renewed hope. I also remember reading something... was it in the Screwtape Letters?... that said real prayer for others involves specifics. Okay, so it didn't say that exactly, but that was the essence of it. That you're less likely to be honestly concerned for someone if you're praying for their eternal significance than if you are praying for their rheumatism to be healed. Well, I have a little trouble with that, because I generally think in enormous, vague, cosmical terms. But I was reminded that God does care about these things - dry skin, a wheezy car, not getting enough hours at work - and he wants to work in us through them.
I could go on, but I will soon start to ramble, and Mom already has her shoes on. To PV we go, to ready the classroom and be Useful Productive Members of Society.
love and peace.....
For there, in so far as place mattered at all, was the place of the Principle that had held them together - something that, he hoped, was stronger than the lion and subtler than the serpent and more lovely than butterflies, something perhaps that held even the Ideas in their places and made a tender mockery even of the Angelicals.
Thirst, by Mary Oliver, newly discovered by me, and bound to make a reappearance on this blog. Sooner rather than later.
Lotta Prints, a scrumptious book of practical crafts for my favorite entrepreneur.
The Juniper Tree and other Grimmtastic tales, replete with illustrations from our favorite Maurice Sendak (whom we love not only because his name's Maurice, but also because he knows and loves the wild thing in us all)
Last night, I went hunting for a storytime in Fullerton with one of my coworkers who's soon to be doing a storytime of her own once a week. It was a research trip. We had faulty directions from one of our managers, but the fault began with us not paying attention to our exit. A couple streets were missing from the directive and signs were also misleading, the result being that we had to make four phone calls to different people during the drive and arrived twenty-five minutes late. Only to find that there was no storytime to begin with. Grr...
Lesson learned: call in advance, get directions beforehand from reliable source (i.e. a map), and allot significant extra time for the journey.
Our attempt to go incognito failed as well, since two of the managers recognized me immediately. They were really excited to see us though, thrilled to give us over an hour's worth of suggestions and advice (mostly the same few words of wisdom repeated in a variety of ways: 'don't forget to stamp it!' - 'and you can use a stamp' - 'when they see that stamp'). Not a wasted trip, overall, though thoroughly exhausting. After the driving adventure, we decided to forgo hunting for the cute restaurant downtown and just walked across the parking lot to Islands. Sometimes you make sacrifices for sanity. Beauty and adventure fall subject to stability and familiarity. The conversation, I think, does not suffer much from lack of ambiance or taste.
(sidebar: a girl is running down the sidewalk across the street with her hands in heavy black mits making broad swimming motions around and around above her head, freestyle in boxing gloves. the strokes are distracting from her pace, so her jogging has become a kind of shuffling run. bizarre. i love this street.)
When I got home, Uncle Bob was seated cozily in my living room. He had made a spontaneous visit just that afternoon and is in the house even now. Emily will be driving down later on today, and Tara and Spencer are also in town for a little while. There's a sandcastle competition down the beach a ways, Amanda's home sick, and Jenny B is back in town. Lots to do, people to see, places to go. But I don't feel busy. Maybe there's a resting somewhere inside that defies all the activity around me. Maybe it's the fog over the water. Maybe it's watching my cat sleep in her seafood box for hours on end.
Our Master lies asleep and is at rest:
His Heart has ceased to bleed, His Eye to weep:
The sun ashamed has dropt down in the west:
Our Master lies asleep.
Now we are they who weep, and trembling keep
Vigil, with wrung heart in a sighing breast,
While slow time creeps, and slow the shadows creep.
Renew Thy youth, as eagle from the nest;
O Master, who hast sown, arise to reap:—
No cock-crow yet, no flush on eastern crest:
Our Master lies asleep.
- Phillips Brooks
It's easy to be overcome by the illusion of self-importance. Especially when you have an account on facebook, a twitter page, and a blog. Lately, I've toyed with the idea of dropping them all. Like when I quit going to New Life and started going to St Francis instead. It kept occurring to me, Sunday after Sunday, 'these people won't actually miss me.' It wasn't a sad thought; it was liberating. But as you see, I have not quit the blog. I feel like I've an obligation to your internet routine, being here every now and then with something new. When I really feel like quitting is when I find myself fiercely curious to know who is reading and why and from where and for how long. I'll putter about on my analytics page, frustrated with the teasingly minute information it gives me, only to realize how absurd it all is. Like when you realize you've just had a lengthy, intense conversation with yourself in the mirror. 'Fool,' you say, 'you really need to get out more.'
But it's not so idiotic to want some kind of response, really. Because blogging is more like the conversation in the mirror than anything else. That's why I'm so thankful, you regulars, that you post comments all the time. It reminds me that I'm not chattering away at myself. There is still conversation left in the world. We still relate.
The world passes by around me, not one of these pedestrians giving me a second thought - most of them with stories more interesting than my own. I will never know them, they will never know me. I am as inconsequential as the crab in the sea. It is not a sad thought; it is strangely liberating. (Thought not exactly true.)
Thank you for not being strangers.
There is a place where love begins and a place where love ends.
There is a touch of two hands that foils all dictionaries.
There is a look of eyes fierce as a big Bethlehem open-house furnace
or a little green-eyed acetylene torch.
There are single careless bywords portentous as the big bend in the Mississippi River.
Hands, eyes, bywords - out of these love makes battle-grounds and workshops.
There is a pair of shoes love wears and the coming is a mystery.
There is a warning love sends and the cost of it is never written till long afterward.
There are explanations of love in all languages and not one found wiser than this:
There is a place where love begins and a place where love ends - and love asks nothing.
saw this sign back when my grandpa was visiting. every time i see a sign that makes me laugh - or 'found art' or... anything noticeable and unexpected, i make amanda take a picture. this one actually made it onto my computer! i like the earnest entreaty followed by a glib raise of the eyebrow that this implies.
She lay there in the stone folds of his life
Like a blue flower in granite - this he knew;
And knew how now inextricable the petals
Clung to the rock recessed beyond his hand-thrust;
More deeply in, past more forgotten windings
Than his rude tongue could utter, praising her.
He praised her with his eyes, beholding oddly
Not what another saw, but what she added -
Thinning today and shattering with a slow smile -
To the small flower within, to the saved secret.
She was not to have - except that something,
Always like petals falling, entered him.
She was not his to keep - except the brightness,
Flowing from her, that lived in him like dew;
And the kind flesh he could remember touching,
And the unconscious lips, and both her eyes:
These lay in him like leaves - beyond the last turn
Breathing the rocky darkness till it bloomed.
Anyway, I tried the make-your-own-cover thing, only I don't have a program to piece it all together right now. So, my new name is Sidney Jones (not a big fan), and the title of my YA novel is 'Bolster.' It goes beautifully with my cover (which may break the rules, being an illustration, but I like it anyway).
'Jesus, who are you,
and what am i doing in your brain?'
Huh. What should I do with that?
what you learn when you read beyond the Confessions.
I just finished reading Catching Fire, the eagerly-awaited sequel to Suzanne Collins's magnificently popular teen novel The Hunger Games, that came out last year. It was a wonderful read, and I continue to be amazed by the author's ability to weave together so many bizarre, disparate elements to create a compelling, convincing story. Like The Hunger Games, there were several parts where I stopped to ask, 'is she talking about this oppressive post-apocalyptic society, or is she talking about our own?' If M. T. Anderson's Feed feels too hard and desperate, these books tackle the same themes without leaving you hopeless for the human race. Ultimately, they are less about sending a message (though a message remains), and more about telling a really fascinating story.
Katniss has just won the Hunger Games without losing her partner - an unprecedented act of rebellion against the Capitol that cannot be ignored. Now she must face the consequences of her victory - and the deceit that won it. The Games have only just begun. The novel is aptly named. I got the feeling as I was reading that this was more of a transitional book, shifting the ground of the narrative from Katniss's concern for personal survival, to the survival of her family and friends, and on to the state of the Districts under the control of the Capitol - in other words, rebellion. It was a fast read leaving me impatient with the next year of waiting till book three comes out. This is why I don't read a series until it's finished - usually.
It also vaguely reminded me of another book that is due to come out in the next few months, a sequel to a largely overlooked teen fantasy novel I read recently. Even the title is similar. Kristin Cashore's Fire will be released at the beginning of October, one month after the release of Collins's Catching Fire. Cashore's book follows her novel Graceling, the story of a girl with the unique gift of killing. (Incidentally, her name's Katsa. Katsa... Katniss... are we in a rut?) Raised by her uncle the king to be his personal assassin, she has grown to hate her gift and to distrust everyone around her. She is distant, hardened, wired to survive, but not to love. It sounds a little melodramatic in summary, but it's actually a very good story. Not that I can recommend it to people. Because Katsa makes me very angry. And not the good kind of angry, like when Emma is so stupid you want to shake her, but you're ultimately really glad she figures out about Knightley. I grant that Katsa has had a rough upbringing and she's had to kill people in really ugly ways for almost as long as she can remember, but that really doesn't justify her unwillingness to commit her affections or her attention. Katniss (of The Hunger Games - don't want to lose anyone with the swift shift in names) is determined not to marry because she doesn't want to have children who will have to go through the Games. As a result, she withholds her affection for Gale and ignores her affection for Peeta. Romantic mess galore! But messy with a cause. Katsa (back to Graceling. don't lose me) loves Po, but not enough to marry him. Just 'cause she doesn't want to feel tied down. And she doesn't want children because she's no good with babies. Okay, I get the children part and I get the tied down part. What I don't get is why you would call it love, real love, if you're providing yourself with an out. It frustrates me that Cashore's heroine comes so close to being healed from all her garbage, to letting go and learning to trust, but she's still not able to take this step. I'm not looking for a Cinderella story with a happy wedding at the end - I'm looking for healing. And Katsa doesn't have it.
What makes me angrier still, angry beyond description, is the quiet, unembellished use of 'emergency contraceptives' in the novel. I put that in quotes because the phrase implies prevention when what it really does is abort. Katsa knows of a helpful plant, she's found her man, she doesn't want kids, voila! Okay, boys and girls - go and do likewise? These are supposed to be characters I respect, people who are turning from a lifetime of violence to embrace life and hope and peace and all things good and beautiful, and this is what they do? And we're not being at all straight about what it implies. Katniss wouldn't do it. Or if she did, she'd call it what it was. Not prevention, but violence. This is why I recommend The Hunger Games, and why I'll continue with Catching Fire. They tell the story of a girl in hellish circumstances who learns to see beyond herself. Who learns to trust and to be vulnerable when everything around her demands walls, barriers, and implacability. She's no saint, but she's straight with us. Sorry, Ms. Cashore. You're a really good writer, but your books will get no help from me.
It used to bother me, these distinctions. I called it inconsistency. I think I might have considered it a sin, somewhere in my frustrated, legalistic brain. (I'm still frustrated, still legalistic, still sinful and inconsistent.) Now, I think it's just me being human. It's also a kind of coping mechanism. I laugh more as the world becomes harder. I make people smile when they bring me bad news. I shrug off the world, because who can carry it? More importantly, it's a way to keep people at arm's length. It's my way of being distant. Which is perhaps why my family, for many years, didn't see much of my funny side. Weird, yes. Funny, no. Because I didn't care about keeping them away.
Not really sure where I'm going with this or what exactly I make of it all. I'm just thinking with my fingers on the keys.
and I'm staring at you.
Stones and bones a thousand years old
and I'm staring at you.
The tapestry, the tombs,
and you, blonde and blue.
The hair falling over you,
hiding your balding,
and in the corner of your mouth
a sore slow to healing.
I've never been so captivated,
by your simple staring.
(never mind it's to the camera. not to me.)
may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.
Psalm 137. 5,6
But that's not really why they're worth reading. You see, I am on a perpetual hunt for phenomenal heroes, and she wrote one. In fact, I am creating a new label for this blog. Because I intend to find more*. In these books, the hero in question is named Jace. I quibbled with such a contemporary, made-up name for our hero, until I discovered that it was a nickname hiding all sorts of fabulous identity crises. You see, Jace does not know who he is, where he has come from, or even what he was made of. Literally. Applying the phrase 'internal demons' to him is ironic in a number of ways. He's beautiful and scarred, noble and conflicted, hilariously funny and enormously grave. Of course, for about a book and a half you think you're just reading some absurd teen adventure story with little depth and little more characterization. But it's worth it. I think. :)
* some heroes already found include, but are not limited to, the following: Levin from Anna Karenina, the pig who turns about to be a dragon who is also a man in Pigs Don't Fly, of course Edward and Jacob though i am increasingly bored of the former, yes yes Horatio Hornblower, the god in Gail Carson Levine's Ever, Alec Forbes of Howglen in Alec Forbes of Howglen, and Jesus.
It is rare for me to post pictures of myself on my blog, because - you see - I like to pretend I'm not vain. But I was walking from my car to my house this evening thinking about my purple scarf (which I was wearing) and how much I love it. And I decided that I should really add it to my blogged list of 'things i like'. Because it's just the sort of thing that belongs there.
My purple scarf is the sort of thing I would wear to Crystal Cove with good friends. At which time Kathryn (or Jenny?) would take the photo posted here. The scarf was purchased for me by my fashion-wise sister, Emily, who also recently found a phenomenal grey linen skirt for me at a fabulous shop in downtown Ventura for fifteen dollars!! I am wearing the skirt and the scarf, both, at this very moment. Ah, fashion!
But what I loved about the movie was its color palette. I know, second post in a row that gets gaga over color palettes. Please understand me. This movie earned its legitimacy not by its storyline or all-star vocal cast, but by its color palette. It was just beautiful. I want to build a life on these colors. At very least, a bedroom. Or better yet - a library. Appropriate, since the most beautiful colors were, in fact, found in the castle library. I tried to find a picture online, but there don't seem to be any. They're all of Despereaux on the book or Despereaux in the suit of armor. (None of the pictures, incidentally, show the vegetable-spirit-man. Bummer.)
I came across one picture that I super-like. I posted it above. Despereaux sits in class, perky and unafraid in the midst of his cowering classmates. They're supposed to cower, though. Despereaux is a brave little rebel, though he doesn't know it. As I watched this part of the movie, my heart swelled a little. Not because it was yet another film about how the youth must throw off the irrational rule-mindedness of their elders in order to have adventure and be true to themselves. No, that storyline has gotten rather boring to me. But in Despereaux, that premise has a strange twist. It is a twist that made me want to stand up and clap. Despereaux - it cannot be denied - is severely socially awkward. He is a clueless misfit. And he is incredible. It was a delight to see the hero not just misunderstood but misunderstanding. That dazed look in his eyes as he stares at the light - that's the enthralment of one who simply doesn't care what the world thinks. Not because he's snubbed the world or shrugged it off, but because he simply doesn't notice. There are better things to think about. Three cheers.
Just finished the first in the Mortal Instruments series, City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare. This is, of course, all part of my Summer of Reading thing, which has no plan or purpose other than to read as much as possible of anything not on my reading list. As many 'throw-away' books as possible. In fact, the only thing on my reading list I actually intend to read in Les Miserables, and I don't honestly think I'll finish that till December. I like the idea of one massive tome defining a year.
Ms. Clare is objecting to my use of the phrase 'throw-away book' in the same paragraph as her Mortal Instruments series. But really, Ms. Clare, if you compare it to the books that are on my reading list, you would understand. I hope. I started reading this series for two reasons. First, I was curious to know if it was worth suggesting to book-buying patrons. I mean, I've put it right there on the table along with Stephenie Meyer. People do ask questions. Second, and more compellingly, I love the color pallette of the covers. They're only slightly melodramatic and busy. And I really wouldn't have been so easily swayed before the third book came out. The bronze background, the hipster-demonhunter look - all very sexy.
Oh yes, did I mention these books were about demonhunters? I didn't know either, because I avoided reading the blurb beforehand. Well, I started reading the blurb of book three after I'd already started reading book one, then realized it was a terrible, horrible spoiler mistake. Bad. Idea. Anyway, yes. So this teenage girl discovers that not only is the world filled with demons and werewolves and faeries and stuff, and not only are there other human(?) beings who go around killing the demons and the other creatures who get out of control, but she's much more a part of their world than she ever knew. There's a really twisted sort of lovish kinda story that will, I am sure, be thoroughly ironed out in the next two books. It's a fast, fun read, more adventure than romance (sorry, Twilighters), and even though an enormous backstory has to be unraveled in the midst of present action and confusion, it never feels as though that history is forced, or worse, that it was made up as the writer went along. On the contrary, you learn everything at just the right time and in just the right way (except for one small detail that could have saved two characters some serious awkwardness and future therapy).
I did find myself getting annoyed with all the interruptions. It's one of Ms. Clare's writing tricks that she withholds information by interrupting her characters just as they're about to say or do something important - like Simon's declaration at the beginning of the book being drowned out by the sudden and ironic arrival of Jace. That sort of sudden arrival happens about every ten to fifteen pages. You can pretty much predict the entrance of a new character by the increasing importance of a conversation.
I also found character development to be a little awkward. There were pretty much two main characters in this book (I strongly suspect that by the third book Simon will be taking up more stage space than he's presently allowed, being a mundane). Jace was one of them, and he was very thoroughly and intricately presented. He's just the right kind of complicated, and we get to see it all. But most of the story is told from Clary's perspective (though not in the first person), so it would be nice if we had any kind of notion as to her personality. She's funny and brave and impulsive, but indistinct. None of her actions are very predictable, which makes her very convenient for a plot (i.e. if you want your characters to be suddenly and efficiently transported to another state, just make sure one of them is the sort who might spontaneously leap up and walk through a magic portal without provocation). But it also made the book very easy to put down. If the only investment I have in the story is my curiosity about punk supernatural warfare, we're on thin ground.
Thankfully, it's my Summer of Reading (not that I don't read every season of the year, but whatever), and thin ground or not, I'll be picking up the second book tonight.
Naturally, there's a cost to such advancement. The novel works on a variety of levels, unraveling the intricacies and atrocities of that cost with haunting, terrifying clarity. If you feel like you need a reason to change the world or even if you're just hankering after a swift kick in the pants, read it. I have a paperback copy anyone can borrow - just send a SASE.
Happy Birthday, Kathryn!
Happy..... okay, that's it.
Yesterday, returning to work several hours after my shift, I bought I boatload of books for blogreader Jenny B and a few for myself as well. I'd been staring at this book for about a year wondering how long it would take for me to buy and read it. Well, let me tell you: it took about a year.
M. T. Anderson is the brilliant author of the Octavian Nothing volumes, of which I am a remarkably big fan (though I confess I wish they weren't quite so long. how do you get teens to pick up tomes that ginormous? they have to really, really trust you...). Feed seeming nothing like my dear Octavian, I have known I would need to read this since I first clapped eyes on it. That, and my store of dystopian futuristic fiction is rather thin. I have yet to read (and this is another confession) Brave New World or 1984 - despite the fact that the first was assigned to me twice in my master's program.
Anyway, so starts the summer of book blogging. (I only just now in this very moment decided that it would be a summer of book blogging, so don't judge me too harshly if nothing comes of it). I haven't really reviewed any books since the fall, due to... um... ... I have no idea. Not reading anything good? That seems unlikely. Huh. I had every intention of reviewing Shannon Hale's newest novel The Actor and the Housewife, but I like her too much to say what I really think on the world wide web. I have high hopes for her next Bayern book, out in a few months, so we can just ignore all my arrogant opinions about her adult fiction.
If I don't post a good review of Feed in the next week or so, someone kick me. Not that it needs a review - it's been out for a good long while. But that's not the point. See you.
First I kiss their petals,
then I ask permission.
With their last beauty, they thank me.
Then, gripping with a care for thorns
I graze the blade below the head down the stem,
looking for the bud of the bud.
click. and toss into the pile.
Today I asked a rose,
and she said no. Not yet.
Her petals were browning
and her center was falling
beneath its own weight,
yet, the dignity of death is in the love of life,
the last clinging,
the 'I think not,' regardless of state,
drinking in breath and the smell of the earth,
the tiny patter of aphids.
The reaper, not grim but gracious,
gives her a kiss, smiles at her certainty,
then walks away -
the smooth of her petals
still on my lips.
I'll come again soon enough.
So I was browsing etsy's handmade books, remembering how much I want to reprint MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin in a beautiful and worthy way. This reminded me that I needed to find out if it was in the public domain. So I went to Project Gutenberg, one of my favorite burrows of the world wide web, and hunted it down. Lo! It is free to the world! Very exciting. So then I was browsing Gutenberg's homepage, trying to figure out if all their texts were past copyright or only some of them. Someone was being clever, listing all the interesting things one can and cannot do with Project Gutenberg texts, and this link came up... prepare yourself.... for beauty: http://www.sublackwell.co.uk/gallery.php?id=1
Not much I can say after that.